FRIDAY, 15 June BETHLEHEM
|The deck outside the dining room at Ecce Homo|
It's even quite chilly this morning, the birds are going gangbusters all around in the early morning coolness. A little hazy today, as if yesterday was a special "welcome to Jerusalem present. It's 6 am Friday, and as our guesthouse is on the Via Dolorosa, I am listening to the strains of "Were you there when they crucified my Lord" as a group at the first station of the cross. We walked it in our orientation tour on the first day, but not in a devotional way.
We left at 7.45 for the bus at the bottom of the Lion Gate, and headed into Bethlehem. It's not that far from Jerusalem really, but through a wall and checkpoint - easy enough for us to get through, but significant for the local Palestinian population who need papers (we did need to have Passports with us, though, just in case).
The hills as we travelled were different here than on the other side of town. There is some vegetation, it's easier to see people making a living (or animals not dying) from these. Lots of rocks, though, and quite steep in places.
We started at the Herodion, walking up to the top was an effort, but seriously worth it. Herod built his palace, then had earth stacked around it to form a hill. It was probably the best place we've been to yet to see a bit more of the scale of these palaces - there are a couple of stories of rocks still standing on each other. You walk down into it and it's quite cool in the shade.
The zealots got into this palace, too, and there is some damage due to the tactics against them. There were a pile of cannon balls as we left (okay, round stones that were catapulted in).
We went into the tunnels. Herod had built an aqueduct to the bottom of the hill, then slaves would bring the water up, then others put it in the cistern. The ones who knew where the cisterns were never got out of the job. Because they knew the secrets of the palace, there were killed when they could no longer work. Herod "The Great" seems such a lovely sort of bloke! (There is actually a story that he took hostages from among the first families with orders that they were all to be killed on the day he died, just so he knew that SOME tears were shed on the day he died. Apparently they didn’t do it, but I'm not certain there was an overt party either.) The tunnels got us back closer to the bus, so we didn't have to walk all the way back up to the top of the Herodion in order to get back. That was very welcome.
After this we went into the city to meet with Norah from Kairos. They have written a document that looks at the problems and issues that exist. Norah is a gentle, humble and strong person. A refugee. But she is just as worried about what is happening to the soul of Israel as she is standing against the injustice perpetrated by them. A remarkable woman and one who I will remember her spirit, if not her face.
We had lunch there with her.
We then headed out to the shepherds fields, which now is a suburb of Bethlehem. There is a cooperative souvenir shop there. Beautiful things from wood carving to jewelry. I could have spent a whole heap of money there. There was an absolutely gorgeous Noah's ark there for only US $8600. It would have been too big to bring home.
|St Jerome - translated the Bible into Latin|
Our last stop was the church of the nativity. Very ornate and different denominations have jurisdiction over different parts of it. We saw the stable cave with all its trappings, but I much preferred the less ornate caves around the back. Nedal (our guide) stopped us in Jerome's cave and talked to us for a bit. It is unadorned, and the cave outside is the other end of the one considered the cave of the nativity. I could have spent longer here, but the time we had was nice. It was also cool.